Saturday, August 31, 2013

History house

You can be forgiven for passing by this crumbling ruin even without a first look. It is certainly not an advertisement for the attractions of Fort St George; even though it is listed as a protected monument, it has certainly been left unprotected for a very long time. 

Once upon a time, this was the residence of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. This is the same Wellesley who went on to be a hero at the battle of Waterloo, but for all that, he does not seem to have had made much of an impression on the good people of Madras. 

Unlike its neighbour, Clive House, the Wellesley house is just marking time until it comes down completely. So, if you want to see (what is left of) it, head out to the Fort right now! 

Friday, August 30, 2013

Watch the type

They don't make these anymore.

Chennai had at least two factories making big typewriter brands. Both were from the same group, but Halda was the more prominent of the two, with its factory right on Mount Road. I can't remember ever having seen the factory - in fact I am sure that by the 1990s, the factory had ceased production - but even as recently as 2007, news reports referred to that site as the "Halda Junction". That factory was started in 1956 with a capacity of about 3,500 typewriters annually - with keyboards in 3 languages. By 1960, they had expanded the plant, with capacity going up to 15,000 units and by one report, 83% of the parts being indigenously manufactured.

Halda AB, the Swedish parent had another brand, Facit, which turned out typewriters from its factory in Perungudi. I haven't been able to get much information on when this was started, or when it stopped, but by the 1980s, the typewriter's days were numbered. Halda AB had put their typewriter business on the block; passing through a few hands, they were finally laid to rest sometime in the 1990s. Without any competition, Godrej & Boyce continued making their machines into the 21st century. That sole manufacturer of manual typewriters in the world finally shut production down in April 2011. 

Halda continues to be around today, though in a different avatar. Check out this site!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Early Onam?

Onam, the harvest festival of Kerala, is still a couple of weeks away. It is tradition that in the 10 days leading up to Onam, every house creates a pookalam (flower pattern), a fresh one every day, preferably growing in size and complexity so that the one on Thirvonam day is quite large and intricate.

A hotel in Chennai seems to have started early: this was in its lobby at least a month before the festival day!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Chennai heat

The rains of the Southwest monsoon stopped a few weeks ago and it is too early for its Northeast cousin to visit us yet. It has been steaming up in the city as we move into the second, or third, of the four summers? The other subject in the picture - autorickshaw meters - have been in the news for the past few days, with the government having fixed the fares after many many years.

But the autos have time until October 15 to ensure compliance. Hopefully, the rains would be back then and the city - as well as the auto meters - would be less hot then!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Metro matters

It has taken a little over four years and the Chennai Metro appears to be on track for taking on the first set of passengers early next year. Put together, the two corridors will have a tad over 45km of track, of which 24km would run underground. This is a picture of a section of Corridor 2 (Central to St Thomas Mount), between Arumbakkam and Vadapazhani. A map of the corridors can be seen here

How may stations does the Chennai Metro have? That was a question at the Madras Quiz, to which many teams knew the answer (no, we did not). Each of the corridors has 17 stations. Another question was to identify which is the only station common to both corridors - that's the Alandur station, near the airport (which we knew). But the correct answer to the first question was given as 32 - which doesn't add up.

One explanation is that the number would depend on how you count the stations. Going by their names, there are only 32. Apart from Alandur, the other common name is Central Metro; on the map, however, the corridors show distinct stations, so if we were to go by that count, there would really be 33 stations. 

And then, there would be some who might insist on adding up the stations and claiming that there are actually 34!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Merry go-round

In real-life, this looks a bit tacky, but the picture has somehow caught the light inside the carousel's centrepiece and makes it look good. At MGM Dizzee World

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The first SEZ

India can take credit for a lot of firsts on the global stage and Chennai can do likewise on the national stage (and in some cases, globally as well). That's why many consider Chennai (Madras) to be the first city of modern India. And, as the place where it all began, Fort St George can take pride in all the firsts that have been listed.

There is however one 'first' that has not been considered. And that's what my wife told me last evening. "Do you realize" said she, "that Fort St George is the first SEZ in the country?". That's true. When it was set up, 374 years ago, the fort was exempt from paying any taxes on its revenues. It was also allowed duty-free imports, so by practical standards, this factory on the Coromandel coast could indeed have been India's first Special Economic Zone!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

School types

The building looks like it has been permanently stuck in the 1970s or thereabouts. The business touted on the signboard, advertising typewriting and shorthand courses, should have gone bust at least in the later part of the 1990s. That it hasn't is probably an endorsement of some forms of technology; in fact, Kremlin seems to have plumped for it as their answer to the Edward Snowden challenge, as it were.  

Back to the facts here: the list of 'Approved Commerce Institutes" on the state government's website runs into 110 pages - that is roughly 2,000 such Typewriting and Shorthand Schools. The vast majority of them seems to be based in Chennai and it would be good to find out what the situation is like in the other states - I can imagine Kerala having a similar number, but no clue about any of the others. 

So how many of you have seen notes being taken down in shorthand, these days?

Friday, August 23, 2013


The Nawabs of Wallajah had a significant presence in the Madras of the British East India Company's days. Apart from the Nawabs themselves, significant courtiers were also patrons of the city and they sometimes left a memory behind. Those could certainly not be allowed to overshadow the Nawabs' legacy - still, that's no reason for this mosque to be bullied by the buildings next to it.

Bahram Jung, or, to give him his full address, Muhammad Abdullah Qadir Nawaz Khan Bahadur Bahram Jung, was in the services of the Nawab between 1789 and 1795. As the personal advisor of Nawab Umdat-ul-Umrah, Bahram was the interlocutor to negotiate borrowings for the Nawab. And there was a quite a lot of borrowing, to the extent that when Umdat-ul-Umrah died and the creditors began pressing for repayment, the British had to step in. They confiscated all of Bahram's jagirs and gave him a stipend that he could barely subsist upon. This mosque was certainly built during Bahram's better times, towards the end of the 18th century.

Can't spot it? You can see the two minarets - miniminarettes, really - to the right of the Witco sign. Must try to go in there, sometime. It will surely be a squeeze!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Unusual music

What is so unusual about a Sivalingam, you ask? Well, it is not just about the lingam, though it is not often that a regularly tended-for lingam is left out in the open. Look beyond the lingam, to the figure under the canopy. That is Nandi, Siva's vehicle. It is not difficult to recognise him, even when he is shown in a rare anthropomorphic representation.

It is not usual that Nandi is housed under a roof when Siva is left to the mercy of the elements. As I said, this is not a usual Nandi. The statue is shown seated, playing the mridangam, recalling the fabled performance when Nandi played the deva vaadyam (heavenly instrument) as the accompaniment to Siva's cosmic dance.  That instrument, it is believed, is what the mridangam evolved from. 

At the Government College of Music, Chennai, it is entirely appropriate that the musician rates that bit higher!